A Brief History Lesson
The original dream of the Boston Marathon doesn’t belong to me - it belongs to John Graham. Back in 1896, after witnessing the first-ever Olympic Marathon in Athens, Graham returned to the US inspired to organize a similar race in Boston. So, on April 19, 1897, fifteen runners squared off in the first-ever Boston Marathon. Since then, the race has been run every year, without interruption, for over a century - making the Boston Marathon the oldest marathon in the world.
With that kind of track record, it's not surprising that an entry into the race is highly sought after. In fact, in 2010, the field's 20,000 spots were filled in less than eight hours! Now, with most races, securing a spot is easy: you just pay the registration fee for the race, provide a bit of personal information, and you're in. But, with the Boston Marathon, there's one added requirement to secure an entry: you have to prove that you belong there.
How Does One Get In There?
Back in 1970, the marathon instituted minimum qualification standards. At the time, they just required that participants had evidence of having completed a sanctioned marathon in under four hours in order to be eligible. Today, the standards are a little more strict: men between the ages of 18-34 have to complete a marathon in under 3 hours and 5 minutes (7:02/mi) in order to be eligible for Boston; women in the same age range have 3 hours and 35 minutes (8:12/mi). That's flying. But, even then, running a qualifying time doesn't guarantee someone a spot it the Boston Marathon; it just makes them eligible. In the event that more runners submit a qualifying time than there are spaces available for in the race, then only the fastest runners (in each respective age grouping and gender) are accepted into Boston.
For example, this past September, the Boston Athletic Association received over 28,000 qualified applicants for 23,000 spots in the 2018 Boston Marathon. So, how do they decide who gets in, in a way that's non-discriminate against any particular age or gender? The BAA essentially drops the minimum qualifying standard until only as many runners have met the standard as they have spots available. For the 2018 Boston Marathon, applicants needed to beat their respective qualifying standards by 3 minutes and 23 seconds in order to earn an entry into the race. So, for men in the 18-34 age group, they needed to run a 3:01:37 (6:55/mi) to be awarded an entry; for women in the same age group, they needed a 3:31:37 (8:04/mi) to get in.
Up to the day I saw my brother run the Boston Marathon, I'd only competed in one race in my life: a 5k (3.1 miles), the day before the Boston Marathon. I had two goals for that race: 1) to beat my sister, and 2) to finish in under 21 minutes. I can't remember exactly who won between me and my sister (let's assume she won), and I'm almost positive I didn't finish under 21:00. More importantly, the 5k put into perspective for me just how far away I was from getting in to the Boston Marathon: my goal at the 5k was to run 7-minute miles for three miles; to get into the Boston Marathon, I'd need to run even faster than that for eight times as far!
So, about as quickly as my dreams of running the Boston Marathon were born, they were crushed. I knew that at a minimum I was a couple years away from getting into the race, even if I dedicated all of my physical training to running - and frankly, I still wasn't that passionate about the sport - I just wanted to run that particular race. So, at the end of the weekend, I added a new item to my bucket list, and I hopped on a plane back to Spokane, more or less forgetting about my Boston ambitions.
In fact, I didn't go for a run for another three years. I was traveling by myself on a business trip to San Francisco, and I figured that going for a jog would be a good way to see the city after I was done with my meetings each day. So, each night, I went for a run down California Ave and along the waterfront towards the Embarcadero. I got lost in the city, wandering the streets, trying to get a feel for the restaurants and shops and the bridges that everyone raved about. It felt more like exploring than running. And, before I knew it, I'd covered more than 6 miles every night.
During that trip, a friend of mine and I were talking about iPhone apps that we liked, and we'd stumbled onto the Nike+ app. At the time, it was an app that would not only track your runs (which blew my mind), but it was capable of building out entire training plans for you based on your goals and experience. So, at the end of the week, after seeing my running data from 3-4 runs, I started wondering how fast I could go; I started wondering how far I could go.
And so, I started messing around in the Nike+ app, and I had the app show me what a beginner's training plan would look like for a half marathon. The wheels in my head started spinning faster. This looks totally doable, I remember thinking. The plan gave me several weeks to work up to the half-marathon distance, and it'd give me plenty of practice at everything from speed workouts to long runs to fartleks - whatever the hell those were.
So, when I got home, I decided that I'd kick off the half-marathon training plan - not to run a race, just to answer the two questions that I couldn't get off my mind: How fast can I go? How far can I go?